The Obama administration apparently flubbed an opportunity for U.S. special forces to capture a leader of Ansar Al-Sharia, the group responsible for the deadly attack on Benghazi last year.
The take-down was to have taken place in Benghazi shortly after Abu Anas al-Libi, the former al-Qaida operative was nabbed in Tripoli early this month. But the orders never came, and the opportunity was lost.
Special forces had targeted Ahmed Abu Khattalah, a leading figure in the al-Qaida-backed Ansar Al-Sharia militia and the subject of a U.S. indictment, according to CNN.
U.S. intelligence agencies and military special operations forces have moved in and out of Libya for several months with the permission of the Libyan government. They are looking for opportunities to capture alleged suspects in the Benghazi attack, developing a list of nearly a dozen individuals.
But earlier this month may have been one of the closest times they have come to being able to conduct a mission, officials say.
Khattalah had openly operated in Benghazi for months and even has been interviewed by CNN’s Arwa Damon.
But it was this month that U.S. intelligence finally had enough information about his specific whereabouts that a raid seemed feasible to military planners, several U.S. officials tell CNN.
Within weeks of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that took four American lives, including that of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Republicans in Congress have accused the White House of lying and withholding information on details surrounding the event. Earlier this week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., promised to block future nominations in the Senate until the administration made witnesses available.
The Khattalah operation was reportedly ready as early as Oct. 6, the day after Abu Anas al-Libi was grabbed in Tripoli, according to what some officials told (CNN. But White House approval never came, reportedly because the administration feared negative publicity surrounding the Tripoli operation.
Watch the report from Barbara Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent.